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Ambulances en route to Chilliwack after reports of plane crash near Mount Cheam, BC EHS says

Plane crash in Chilliwack?

UPDATE: 7:38 p.m.

Police are looking into reports of a plane crash in the Chilliwack area, according to RCMP Sgt. Chris Manseau.

However, Manseau said no sign of a crash has been found yet.

According to BC EHS, a call came in just after 6 p.m. Tuesday reporting the crash, and paramedics were dispatched to an area near Mount Cheam.

“We’re out and about looking for the same thing. Members there have been in touch with Chilliwack Airport and at this time, there’s no reports of planes overdue,” Manseau said.

“We are aware, and we’re looking into it.”


ORIGINAL: 6:33 p.m.

Paramedics have been dispatched to the Mount Cheam area in Chilliwack after reports of a plane crash, according to BC Emergency Health Services.

BC EHS said a call came in just after 6 p.m. reporting the crash.

The agency said it has sent three units and a supervisory vehicle to the scene.

There is no word yet on the size of the aircraft or how many people may have been on board.

This story will be updated as more information is available.



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Work begins on resurfacing of Bamfield road in wake of fatal bus crash

Work starts on deadly road

Gold shovels broke ground this week for the start of resurfacing work on Bamfield Main Road, an upgrade promised by the province after two University of Victoria students died in a 2019 bus crash on a narrow part of the gravel road.

The 76-kilometre link between Bamfield and Port Alberni will now be chip-sealed. The province is contributing $25.7 million and Huu-ay-aht First Nations is covering the remaining $5 million.

“Today is an exciting day for our Nation — one we have been working towards for decades,” Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. said in a statement.

Dennis Sr. said the upgrades will create a safe, reliable road for travellers, adding the Huu-ay-aht First Nations is making history as the first Indigenous community to lead a road-infrastructure project of this size.

The groundbreaking took place Monday at the first gravel pit that the First Nation is developing for the project, with MP Gord Johns, MLA Josie Osborne and Alberni-Clayoquot regional director Bob Beckett in attendance. When completed, Blenheim Pit, in Huu-ay-aht’s traditional territory close to Bamfield, will supply the gravel needed for the road surfacing.

The work will take place in three sections of approximately 25 kilometers each. The contracts will be tendered in January, with work to begin in April and completed by mid-September. The contracts will include drainage and signage. The road will also be raised in numerous sections to prevent flooding.

One seal-coat contract covering the complete 76.6 kilometres will be tendered in March. The seal coating is expected to be completed by the end of September. In March 2023, a contract will be tendered for paving certain sections, including steep hills, major intersections and bridge approaches.

Barriers will also be installed to increase safety in specific locations.



Pack of coyotes chases teen in West Vancouver

Pack of coyotes chases teen

A West Vancouver mom is warning neighbours in the Altamont area to be cautious after her 13-year-old son was chased by a pack of five coyotes near his home.

Coralynn Gehl said her teen left the house around 7:45 a.m. as usual to head to the bus stop Monday morning. But he hadn’t gone far when he noticed four coyotes at the bottom of the street, standing in the intersection. A fifth coyote then came out of the bush. “And he said that’s when they noticed him and started trotting up the hill towards him,” said Gehl.

Spooked by the experience, Gehl said the teen did exactly what he shouldn’t have done – turned and ran. By the time he made it home, one of the coyotes was already in the driveway.

Gehl said the experience left her concerned enough to call both the conservation office and the West Vancouver police.

Coyote sightings are relatively common in the neighbourhood, she said, but added, “It’s not normal to see that many all at once,” or to be chased by them.

Gehl said her main concern was that young children who attend West Bay Elementary would be walking to school at that time. “I was really worried [the coyotes] would just be in the bushes, waiting,” she said.

Gehl said she was also thinking of the rash of 45 coyote attacks in Stanley Park that resulted in more than 10 of the coyotes being destroyed last month.

A West Vancouver police officer did conduct extensive patrols in the area, said Const. Kevin Goodmurphy, spokesman for the department, but didn’t see any coyotes.

Gehl said she talked with a conservation officer later in the day, who told her the coyotes’ behaviour was unusual and “not something they see at all on the North Shore.”

The Ministry of Environment issued a statement saying conservation officers were aware of the incident, but added there had been no actual contact between the coyotes and the teen and no similar reports of conflict in the area.

Wild coyotes are naturally curious, according to the ministry, but will usually run away if challenged. Coyotes start posing a risk to people when they lose their wariness – usually a result of feeding by humans.

Anyone who encounters a coyote that doesn’t move away shouldn’t run but should yell, throw rocks, and try to look as big as possible, according to the ministry. Children should be supervised or walk in groups in forested areas.

Gehl said she intends to keep an eye out, especially after one of her neighbours reported seeing the coyotes frequently on dog walks.

In response to the incident, park rangers from the District of West Vancouver have also installed signs at both ends of Rosebery Avenue and near West Bay Elementary.



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Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs demand banks divest from gas pipeline

Chiefs demand banks divest

Nearly 100 environmental and Indigenous groups have backed a letter demanding over two dozen financial backers of a controversial natural gas pipeline in B.C. divest from the project.

In a letter to LNG Canada and 26 financiers of Coastal GasLink, three Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say government and industry have failed to properly adhere to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as they move ahead with the construction of the 670-kilometre-long pipeline.

“The Coastal GasLink project is in violation of UNDRIP, adopted at both the provincial and federal level in Canada,” states the letter, adding that its construction without Wet’suwet’en consent is “an infringement of our title and rights.”

They added: “It is an illegal project.”

Passing through traditional Wet’suwet’en territory, the pipeline is the biggest of its kind in Canada. When completed, it will connect gas fields in northeast B.C., with a massive processing facility on the coast. Critics say the pipeline and LNG terminal in Kitimat will make it impossible for B.C. to reach its emission reduction targets; the B.C. government maintains the massive gas project is tailored for a world shifting toward renewable energy, where “global markets are expected to favour lower-carbon natural gas producers.”

The letter to investors — which includes several major banks and financial institutions from Canada, the United States, China and Australia, among others — serves as a “formal notice” the pipeline project doesn’t have the consent of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and invites the backers to meet with Indigenous leaders.

Rob Henderson, a former chief economist at National Australia Bank, one of Coastal GasLink’s investors, said in a written statement the project was a risky investment as it would “inevitably become stranded assets as the world shifts to renewable energy.”

In an email to Glacier Media, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said Coastal GasLink has been engaging with Indigenous nations since 2012, when the pipeline project was submitted for a provincial review. Since then, ministry spokesperson Meghan McRae said the BC Environmental Assessment Office has continued those consultations, including with hereditary chiefs.

“The company has project agreements with all 20 elected chiefs and councils of the Indigenous nations along the pipeline route,” said McRae.

But where elected chiefs have been in support of the pipeline, hereditary chiefs have not. When protests erupted across Canada in support of Wet’suwet’en title rights in early 2020, it was the hereditary chiefs who activists sided with.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have said the authority of the elected chiefs and councils along the pipeline route is limited to reserves created under the Indian Act. Traditional lands on unceded territory, they say, remains under their authority.

ALL EYES ON MORICE RIVER

Since Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued an eviction order to Coastal GasLink in 2020, the pipeline project has drawn international media attention. That order “still stands,” notes the letter, despite ongoing attempts by RCMP units to set up an exclusion zone around a Wet’suwet’en blockade near Morice River.

Known as Wedzin Kwa to the Wet’suwet’en, the Morice River flows into the Bulkey, eventually draining into the Skeena River at the town of Hazelton.

Roughly two dozen "land defenders" have set up a blockade near a drilling pad, where Coastal GasLink is planning to boar a tunnel under the river.

“That’s where the salmon go up. The salmon is one of our staple diets. If this is destroyed, we’re all going to suffer the consequences,” Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Frank Alec (Dini ze Woos) told Glacier Media.

Traditionally, Woos said the body of water has been a conduit for grizzlies who feed at the river before moving into the nearby hills to hibernate. But in recent years, he said the bears haven’t been seen.

“We don’t see the grizzlies anymore. We’re concerned about that. They’re our spiritual animals,” he said, pointing to a long and interconnected food chain that includes steelhead trout, elk, caribou and mountain goats.

“All of these are connected and all of these are traditional harvesting areas.”

Over the last several weeks, Woos said he has split his time between Burns Lake and a cabin supporters have built in a muddy clearing in the path of the pipeline.

In late September, Coastal GasLink president Tracy Robinson said in a statement the company was nearly finished its clearing work in Wet’suwet’en territory, and was getting ready to cross the Morice River. The company, said Robinson, would use a micro-tunnel method of drilling that “does not disturb the stream or the bed and banks of the river” and “was determined to be the safest and most environmentally responsible method after thorough expert assessments.”

Despite government and industry statements to the contrary, Woos said he and other Wet’suwet’en land defenders have been locked out from proper consultation.

On Aug. 6, Coastal GasLink obtained a “Site Alteration Permit” to destroy a protected archeological site 200 metres from camp. That’s left those who support the blockade skeptical of the lengths the company will go to to safeguard the river.

“We don’t trust the technology. We don’t trust what’s going under there,” he said. “It’s quite concerning if they have a pipeline under there — 50, 75 years from now, if it ruptures? We don’t know what kind of poisons are going to go from that.”

‘THIS IS IT’

Woos said that while he has not been in contact with Coastal GasLink, he has been in communication with B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commissioner Paul Jeakins, the Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Fazil Mihlar, and Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen.

When they met on Sept. 16, Woos said his people wouldn’t move from the blockade and asked them to put a hiatus on pipeline construction in the area of the Morice River. Last week, Woos said he received a letter from Cullen indicating a 60-day moratorium was approved.

Woos said he is holding out hope this will be the moment when all sides can come together to talk seriously about Wet’suwet’en title and stewardship over their traditional territory.

“This is it. This is where it’s going to start,” said Woos.

At the same time, Woos said his people aren’t moving, despite a court-approved injunction. Two land defenders have been arrested in recent weeks, including one Woos said was subjected to “pain compliance” from RCMP officers after he chained himself under a school bus set up at the blockade.

Woos said the hereditary chiefs are prepared to sit down with Premier John Horgan, and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau down the line. But “to talk a peace treaty” has to be premised on recognizing Wet’suwet’en title over the land, he said.

“Plan B: We’re not moving — at all. If they’re going to shoot, and if we’re going to die, we’ll die. We’re ready,” said Woos.

“Just let it be known: We’re saving this river for everyone, not just Wet’suwet’en.”



5,500 healthcare workers in B.C. unvaccinated a week before mandate goes into effect

Healthcare mandate looms

More than 5,500 healthcare workers in B.C. remain unvaccinated a week before the province’s vaccine mandate for the sector goes into effect.

Anyone who works or volunteers in a public healthcare facility will have to be vaccinated as of Oct. 26.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday of the 129,924 healthcare workers employed by provincial health authorities, 5,512 (4%) remain unvaccinated.

“We are hopeful of course that people will move to get vaccinated and comply with the coming order,” he said.

The Interior Health region has the highest rate of unvaccinated health authority employees at 7%, followed by Northern Health (6%), Vancouver Island Health (5%), Vancouver Coastal Health (3%) and Fraser Health (2%).

Along with the mandate for staff, visitors to acute-care settings like hospitals will have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 26.

The mandate does not extend to doctors who provide care in private practices. Doctors of BC advocated for mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers. The BC Nurses Union, however, has said it cannot support the mandate over fears it will exacerbate the nursing shortage that predated the pandemic.

The ratio of unvaccinated general healthcare workers is similar to that of the long term care and assisted sector, which saw its mandate go into effect on Oct. 12. Employees in care homes who refused to get vaccinated were placed on unpaid leave and will be terminated in the coming weeks.



Plenty to see in the night sky early Wednesday

Showy celestial display

Skywatchers might be hoping the Full Moon isn’t too bright Wednesday morning.

That’s because it’s also the time when the Orionid meteor shower will be at its peak.

This year, the Orionids are expected to be at their most spectacular in the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2021.

In both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, there could be up to 20 meteors per hour, but they will only be visible under ideal circumstances and away from the bright lights of the city.

The moon could throw a wrench in viewing plans because it’s also going to be at its brightest shortly before sunrise. The Hunter’s Moon is scheduled to arrive at 7:56 a.m. PDT.

The peak of the Orionids is set for around 2 a.m., so if you get up in the middle of the night, you might be able to see a lot of space rocks streaking by.

Even if you don’t see the display Wednesday, sightings of ‘shooting stars’ are still possible for several more weeks. The meteor shower continues until November 22.

The Orionid meteor shower is produced by Halley's Comet, which last visited the inner Solar System in 1986.



B.C. to reopen sports arenas, concerts to max capacity: situation in Interior Health unclear

Will restrictions lift locally?

UPDATE 5 p.m.

It is not yet known whether Interior Health will be lifting capacity restrictions for concert and sporting events next week alongside the rest of B.C.

“Nothing is changing provincially until Oct. 25 and we will be able to provide clarity on the status in IH on Friday,” said a IH spokesperson in an email to Castanet.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Tuesday that capacity restrictions at sporting events and concerts would lift on Oct. 25 after the vaccine passport system goes fully into effect with a two-dose requirement.

She, however, said regional health authority restrictions can remain in place.

That means it appears the ball is now in the court of Interior Health.

Daily and active case counts have been dropping steadily in recent weeks within the region. And with the requirement already in place within IH that everyone watching a public sporting event be fully-vaccinated, it’s not clear what reasoning Interior Health would have for not following the provincial government’s lead and loosening restrictions.

Bruce Hamilton, president and GM of the Kelowna Rockets, is asking the same question.

"Everybody in our buildings have to have both vaccinations in order to get in, unless you're under 12. I don't know what more we can do to be safer,” he said. "When you add the other half of the attendance, it's still going to be the same group of people. They have to have their shots in order to get it."

"It's frustrating because we don't know what we have to do to get over the hump."

"From our perspective, we've lived by every protocol. Our protocols that were put in place in order to start a season were more stringent than the B.C. government's rules. We've lived by it, and that's the frustrating thing for me,” Hamilton added.


ORIGINAL 1:30 p.m.

Canucks players will likely be hearing more cheers from the crowd at Rogers Arena than previously expected when the puck drops for the NHL team’s home-opener next week.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Tuesday B.C. would return to 100% capacity at indoor sporting events, concerts, movie theatres and more effective October 25.

Patrons will be required to show proof of vaccination upon entry into these locations.

There is, however, some confusion as to whether the restrictions will lift in the Interior Health region as well. Castanet has asked both IH and the Ministry of Health to clarify and this story will be updated. The Kelowna Rockets organization tells Castanet they also don't know where things stand.

“We’re hoping to leverage the benefits of the vaccine card and this is an important first step,” Henry said.

Restrictions requiring everyone to remain at their own tables at restaurants and pubs are also being lifted “to allow a little bit more freedom of movement [due to] the fact that everybody in those situations will be fully vaccinated,” she added.

Other indoor events, such as weddings, funerals and parties will also be allowed to go back to max capacity.

Henry said she’s “very pleased” with last week’s announcement from American authorities that it would accept travellers from Canada with mixed doses of COVID-19 vaccines over the land border beginning November 8.

While Canada has pursued mixing and matching vaccines, the practice is not being undertaken by the Americans. And unlike Canada, the U.S. has not approved the AstraZeneca plc vaccine. But the Americans previously announced that foreign travellers who’ve gotten their jabs with a vaccine approved under the World Health Organization’s emergency use listing will be recognized as eligible for entry into the country. AstraZeneca falls within that scope.

“It’s a credit to the work we’ve done here in Canada to show the effect of the combinations,” Henry said.

“I’m just very pleased that people in B.C. who are fully immunized will now be able to travel.”

The U.S. will be reopening its land border to travellers from Canada on November 8 after Canada did so for American travellers back in August.

More to come...



BC announces 560 new coronavirus cases; 79 in Interior Health

560 new cases, 5 deaths

The provincial government has announced 560 new coronavirus cases, including 79 in the Interior Health region.

The new cases bring B.C.’s total since the pandemic began to 198,838, although just 4,913 cases remain active. Of the active cases, 382 individuals are in hospital and 146 are in intensive care.

There are now 772 active cases within the Interior Health region.

There were five new deaths reported in B.C. over the past 24 hours, none of which occurred in Interior Health.

As of Tuesday, 89.2% of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 83.5% have received their second dose.

The new/active cases include:

  • 208 new cases in Fraser Health — Total active cases: 2,052
  • 80 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health — Total active cases: 717
  • 79 new cases in Interior Health — Total active cases: 772
  • 131 new cases in Northern Health — Total active cases: 797
  • 61 new cases in Island Health — Total active cases: 516

From Oct. 11-17, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 67.1% of cases and from Oct. 4-17 they accounted for 75.5% of hospitalizations.

Past week cases (Oct. 11-17) – Total 3,997

  • Not vaccinated: 2,407 (60.2%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 277 (6.9%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 1,313 (32.8%)

Past two weeks cases hospitalized (Oct. 4-17) – Total 384

  • Not vaccinated: 268 (69.8%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 22 (5.7%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 94 (24.5%)

Past week, cases per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (Oct. 11-17)

  • Not vaccinated: 281.7
  • Partially vaccinated: 81.2
  • Fully vaccinated: 31.1

Past two weeks, cases hospitalized per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (Oct. 4-17)

  • Not vaccinated: 45.2
  • Partially vaccinated: 9.7
  • Fully vaccinated: 2.1


Health authority seeks injunction to shut down B.C. restaurant not complying with vaccine card mandate

Injunction sought for Rolly's

The Fraser Health Authority has filed an injunction in B.C. Supreme Court, seeking to force a Hope restaurant that has refused to comply with the BC Vaccine Card mandate to close down.

The initial civil claim was filed Oct. 18 by Fraser Health against Rolly's Restaurant and its stakeholders, including co-owners Marlene Abeling, Muriel Young and Steve Young, along with Marstev Management Co. and Nelson Insurance Agencies.

Dr. Emily Newhouse, Medical Health Officer/Medical Director of Fraser Health, is listed as the defendant, along with the Fraser Health Authority.

Rolly's has been openly defying the province's requirement for restaurants offering table service to check proof of vaccination status before permitting patrons to access the establishment.

"Thank you for having the courage to stand up to the tyranny!" begins one supporter's comment on the Rolly's Facebook page.

In recent days, the restaurant has had its business and liquor licences revoked; however, the establishment continues to stay open for business.

Both provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday (Oct. 19) that the legal action against the Hope diner is an anomaly amidst their dealings with restaurants unwilling to comply with COVID-19 public health orders.

"We are trying to do a measured response," explained Henry during B.C.'s live weekly COVID-19 response update Tuesday. Henry said Fraser Health staff had been "working with" the restaurant, but that Rolly's was "actively resisting" the mandate to check customers' BC Vaccine Cards.

Though the restaurant was served with an order of closure, "the next step is enforcement," explained Henry.

Dix added that health officials were taking "a progressive approach to dealing with this restaurant and others" defying health orders, aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

"We're disappointed to be at this stage," said Dix of this week's court filings against Rolly's.

Henry explained the province's response to Rolly's as being a result of "trying to balance the need for public safety," citing some instances where health authority staff had faced challenges by being in risky conditions in such businesses.

B.C.'s health officials "don't want to create a situation where things are not safe," added Henry.

Further, Henry said Rolly's was putting the community at risk by staying open and not ensuring its patrons are immunized against the virus. "Clearly it shows people they don't respect their neighbours, their business neighbours, their community."

Dix acknowledged that some business owners are frustrated with having to check BC Vaccine Cards. "I understand that frustration," said the minister.

The preferred method of dealing with businesses defying orders has been to engage with owners directly, noted Dix.

However, in the case of Rolly's, the matter has escalated to the point in the legal process that going to court was the only next option.

"Fraser Health needed to seek the injunction," said Dix. "Hopefully, that sends a message about our determination."

"We owe one another to follow public health rules," continued Dix. "It's our expectation people will do that."

The matter of the application will be heard in B.C. Supreme Court on Oct. 20.



Lawyers say they should be excluded from money laundering policies in B.C.

Lawyers seek exemption

Two groups representing lawyers say their profession should be excluded from any government regulations aimed at fighting money laundering in British Columbia in order to protect the confidentiality of the lawyer-client relationship.

Kevin Westell made joint closing submissions today at a public inquiry into money laundering on behalf of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Bar Association and the Criminal Defence Advocacy Society.

He says the bar association representing 7,000 lawyers in the province is also concerned about suggestions that there is a high risk of money laundering inherent in the work of lawyers.

The province launched the inquiry after reports outlined a money laundering crisis fuelled by millions of dollars in illegal cash being funnelled through the real estate, luxury car and gambling sectors in B.C.

Westell told inquiry commissioner Austin Cullen that his ultimate recommendations could significantly affect how lawyers do their jobs and the extent to which members of the public will continue to feel confident that their dealings with lawyers would remain strictly confidential.

However, a coalition that includes the group Transparency International Canada told Cullen that lawyers, bankers and accountants should be included in any policies in order to allow for public scrutiny of how the advice of those professionals could be sought by criminal enterprises involved in money laundering.



Victoria masseur facing 10 charges of sexual assault

10 sex charges for masseur

A Victoria masseur has been charged with sexually assaulting 10 customers at a Fort Street business during the past two years.

Ajesh Jacob, who goes by the name Sam, is alleged to have committed the sexual assaults between May 21, 2019, and Feb. 9, 2021 at a business in the 700-block of Fort Street offering massage, reflexology, acupressure and lymphatic drainage massage.

Detectives with the special victims unit began an investigation in late March after allegations of sexual assault were reported. Jacob was arrested on May 13. He was charged and released on several conditions, including that he does not perform massages.

At the time of his arrest, police said others had made allegations against Jacob and they believed there might be other victims.

In addition to the Victoria Police Department, sexualized violence can be reported to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre at 250-383-3232 or [email protected], or through a family doctor or a counsellor.



NDP going backward on government transparency: critics

NDP going backward: critics

B.C.’s NDP government is under fire for its proposed Freedom of Information and Privacy Act changes from critics who say it will not increase government transparency and it will add roadblocks for those wanting to discover Victoria’s inner workings.

Indeed, critics say, the changes could thwart the uncovering of government scandals as current law allows and harm citizens’ rights to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

And, certainly, the changes do not reflect past comments from Premier John Horgan.

Minister of Citizen’s Services Lisa Beare unveiled the proposals Oct. 18, saying they would help people access services faster while strengthening privacy protections.

Provincial information and privacy commissioner Michael McEvoy has already raised concerns about getting rid of requirements to maintain data in Canada and about protecting government documents from destruction.

Now, B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has weighed in, saying the government’s Bill 22, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2021 shows disregard for British Columbians, the Legislature and B.C. laws.

“The legislation falls short,” said association executive director Jason Woywada. “This government keeps saying one thing and doing another. They say they support greater government transparency but then introduced proposed legislation that leaves major gaps in our existing law unaddressed.”

Woywada said Victoria is introducing fees for access to information initial requests rather than making the system less secretive and more accessible.

Beare said the fee could be about $25, calling it a modest fee and not a barrier to anyone.

“It’s not at all modest,” said University of Victoria journalism professor Sean Holman, a longtime user of the Freedom of Information (FOI) system as an investigative journalist covering B.C. politics.

“The only other provincial jurisdiction that has a $25 fee is Alberta, which is one of the most secretive jurisdictions in North America,” he said. “This is the equivalent of erecting a 100-foot wall around government to protect itself. This is punishment for anyone who is interested in getting the truth out of government.”

B.C. Liberal leader hopeful Kevin Falcon said in a Facebook post that request fees are wrong.

"We need legislation that promotes more transparency and accountability."

Holman said it was the B.C. NDP that first brought in freedom of information legislation. He called the proposals “a complete betrayal of their own principles.”

And, FIPA president Mike Larsen called such fees a barrier to the public’s right to know what their government is doing.

On a high level, Holman said the proposals are indicative of how the NDP is going to act with a majority government after the October 2020 election.

“It lays bare why the NDP called an election,” Holman said. “It wasn’t to get a mandate; it was to get more power. This is an abuse of that democratic process.”

Further, the association has called on the NDP to release documentation about the legislation’s review and also to meet its own statutory reporting requirements under the legislation. The association said. Victoria is failing to adhere to the current law.
“For example, no annual report was tabled in 2020, nor in 2021, to date,” the association said. “The act requires an annual report be released to empower people to know where government is succeeding and failing.”

And, Larsen pointed to a number of government scandals revealed as a result of people using the access system.

“A legacy of transparency scandals, from fast ferries, to triple delete, to wood chippers at the Legislature, show the costs of secrecy and the importance of getting these legislative amendments right, ”Larsen said.

The woodchipper comment refers to the scandal around alleged extravagant spending by former clerk of the Legislature Craig James and Legislature’s former top cop, sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.

The changes still do not cover what goes on in the Legislature, despite repeated calls for the chamber of elected politicians and the officials who serve them to be covered by legislation and accountable.

Horgan himself was an advocate of reforming legislative coverage of the Legislature. In January 2019, as B.C. was rocked by allegations of extravagant spending by the Legislature’s senior officials, Horgan said the act should be amended to lift the veil of secrecy around legislature spending.

“The public has a right to know how long this has been going on and how it can be fixed,” Horgan said.

“Where I spend money should be available to my neighbour,” the premier said at the time.

Asked then if “everything here at the Legislature should be FOI-able, should be transparent,” Horgan responded, “Yes. With the exception of a few things. Making a blanket statement of yes, we need to make sure that when it comes to expenditures, when it comes to public money, it must be transparent.”

The spending scandal was unveiled by then-speaker of the Legislature Darryl Plecas, past Abbotsford South MLA. He did not respond to a request for comment.

In his report on the scandal, Plecas said issues covered were about “issues of expenditures of public funds and use of public resources by officers of the Legislative Assembly. While that information is not normally available to the public through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or accounting channels, it is information that relates to the same types of matters that are routinely discussed in public in relation to Members of the Legislative Assembly and all of our expenses are published online,” Plecas wrote. "I see no reason why the position ought to be different in relation to Permanent Officers.

“In my view, disclosure of the information will not compromise the work of the Legislative Assembly in any way, and I believe it is clearly in the public interest, as a matter of transparency and accountability, for taxpayers to understand the basis for the serious concerns identified in this report.”

Plecas’ report can be read here.

Horgan also said in 2019 said he would be meeting with Attorney General David Eby to carve out protections in amended legislation for whistleblowers to keep them safe when revealing concerns about government.

Such protections did not happen.

Beare’s ministry did not immediately respond to questions about why the Legislative Assembly and whistleblowers are not covered in the proposals.

System use

Indeed, the FOI covered by the legislation system is used by opposition politicians, businesses, lawyers and journalists to access government information not readily available. Access requests to all levels of government are initially free but fees may be assessed once the amount of information covered is determined.

Beare’s ministry said the province processes more than 10,000 FOI requests annually, with the volume of requests increasing by more than 40% over a two-year period, reaching an all-time high of more than 13,000 requests in 2019-20 at 13,055.

The ministry said the average cost to government for processing a single FOI request is $3,000, though some large, complex requests can exceed that. Fees to produce records are collected in fewer than 2% of requests. About 40% of requests are for personal records for which people are not charged, the ministry said.

“The proposed amendments will not change this,” the ministry said.



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